Nootropics: Everything You Should Know

In recent years, you may have heard the word nootropics flying around. They’ve been booming recently, and everybody seems to be talking about what nootropics have done for them. 

The word nootropics is honestly a little bit intimidating. You can’t really figure out what it means just by glancing at it, and you’re not alone. 

But we think everybody should know about nootropics, so we’ll talk about them. By the end of this article, you’ll have a full understanding of these things, what they are for, what they do, and which ones you might want to work into your life. So let’s hop on the nootropic bandwagon and find out what it’s all about!

What Are Nootropics? 

Nootropic is just a fancy word for any drug, medicine, treatment, supplement, or remedy that supports or improves cognition. Nootropics are also lovingly known as “cognitive enhancers” or “smart drugs” if you like to give things a cute pet name. 

A nootropic could be any number of things. It could be a medical prescription that helps somebody fall asleep. It could be a drug that controls neurotransmitters to help with mental illness. Or it could be a natural remedy that helps support alertness and focus. 

The category of nootropics is very broad. It can include many different treatments, but they all share the same purpose: supporting cognitive function and cognitive performance. 

How Long Have Nootropics Been Around? 

Nootropics have been around in some form or another for centuries upon centuries. One of the earliest forms of nootropics is the Lion’s Mane mushroom. This fuzzy fungus has been used in Chinese medicine throughout history to support neurological health. 

Like Lion’s Mane, many of the nootropics that have been used throughout history are natural. Ginseng, the ginkgo Biloba tree, the Rhodiola Rosea flower, the bacopa monnieri (water hyssop) herb, and even green tea are natural nootropics that have been used for centuries. 

If nootropics start to sound more common than you previously thought, it’s because they are. Even caffeine is considered a nootropic due to its ability to support alertness, mental performance, and focus — many of us consume nootropics several times a day without realizing it! 

Modern medicine has brought us so many more nootropics in the form of medicine. As we better understand the brain and mind, scientists have learned how to influence and support cognition with drugs and pharmaceuticals. 

What Are the Different Types of Nootropics? 

With such a wide range of possibilities when it comes to nootropics, of course, there will be different kinds of nootropics out there. In general, nootropics can be broken down into three main categories: prescription nootropics, OTC (over-the-counter) nootropics, and dietary supplements or foods. 

Each of these types of nootropics serves its own purpose. While some are used to treat specific diseases and can have the side effects that come with prescription drugs, others are simply meant to heighten your mind, boost your energy, and help you keep on winning in life! Let’s take a second to break down the major categories of nootropics to learn more about them. 

What Are Prescription Nootropics?

Prescription nootropics are exactly what they sound like: nootropics prescribed by a doctor, mostly approved by the FDA, and most commonly used to treat illnesses related to the brain. 

Common prescription nootropics include Adderall and methylphenidate for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), modafinil and Provigil for sleeping disorders like narcolepsy, piracetam to help improve memory and learning, citicoline for memory-enhancing properties, and so many more.


Most prescription neurotropic drugs work because they are stimulant drugs. These stimulant properties can counteract certain symptoms of certain disorders. In some cases, they help people with cognitive decline, and in others, they simply counteract certain instances of cognitive impairment. 

These drugs provide stimulus to the nervous system and support brain function and health. They are mostly meant for people with a specific condition. 


Many prescription nootropics work because of their effect on the neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are lightning-fast chemicals that send brain signals to the various neurons throughout the brain. 

For example, Adderall works to boost the levels of two neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine and norepinephrine. In this case, this process works to help a person focus more efficiently and to reduce impulsivity. 

Other nootropics, like certain drugs for Alzheimer’s disease, affect more obscure neurotransmitters like acetylcholine. 

These drugs make these neurotransmitters more available by binding to the neurotransmitter receptors in the brain, preventing the neurotransmitters from being taken up by the brain, thus increasing the overall level of that neurotransmitter in circulation.

What Are OTC Nootropics?

OTC nootropics are a little bit different than prescription ones. These nootropic medicines are still regulated by the FDA. The main difference is that the OTC nootropics are either the generic versions of prescription drugs or are different medicines altogether, with weaker effects. 

A Different Type of Stimulant

OTC nootropics also serve as stimulants, which awaken the brain, often affecting neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain. However, the active ingredients in the OTC nootropics are not quite as involved as the prescription kinds. 

Many prescription nootropics have serious side effects, and many are abused because people find their mental alterations pleasant or even euphoric. Adderall, for example, is an amphetamine and has addictive qualities. 

But OTC nootropics are not going to have such dramatic effects. The active ingredient in many OTC nootropics is caffeine, which does have genuine nootropic effects, but it can’t cure or treat any serious mental illnesses or disorders. 

Aminos, Antioxidants, and More

One of the more common active ingredients in OTC nootropics is amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. Your body uses them to build proteins, which build structures in the body, but they have many more uses. 

There are many of these ingredients out there, from creatine to GABA, but let’s take a look at one popular and powerful amino acid, L-theanine. It’s an absolute rock star of an amino acid, and it has been widely shown to have some pretty amazing effects on your body. 

For starters, theanine helps reduce swelling throughout the body, supporting your gut and brain. It also helps to support your brain health by protecting neurons. It helps maintain a healthy metabolism, supports the health of your heart, and supports the immune system. 

L-theanine is actually found in most tea, especially green tea. It helps boost feelings of alertness and focus, making it a great ingredient for certain over-the-counter nootropics. 

What Should I Know About Nootropic Supplements, Foods, and Mushrooms?

Now, let’s get to the trending topic you’ve all been waiting for: nootropic supplements and foods. 

This type of nootropic has been exploding in popularity over recent years. You’ve probably seen supplements popping up in your pharmacies and on your Instagram feed. 

There are a lot of supplements out there like Panax ginseng or water hyssop, but the most popular by far has been nootropic mushrooms. There’s just something about fungi that does something to the human brain. And many species of mushrooms can help support the health of your brain. 

Healthy people primarily use these supplements in order to support and maintain their overall health and wellness. 

Not every mushroom in the forest will do the same thing for you, which is why many mushroom supplement companies out there use a blend of a variety of mushrooms, working to support your brain in a variety of ways for overall health and wellness. 

Let’s take a look at some of the more important nootropic mushrooms out there and what they have to offer you. 

Lion’s Mane

As we mentioned, Lion’s Mane is one of the oldest nootropics. It’s tried and true and ready for you! It has a pretty striking appearance, with a beautiful creamy, white color and hundreds of tiny hair-like structures, making it look like a lion’s mane or a hedgehog. 

While many prescription nootropics target the brain’s neurotransmitters, Lion’s Mane has a bit of a different effect. It boosts the levels of a particular protein in the brain called nerve growth factor (NGF). 

What that means for your brain is that it encourages more neurons to form and helps maintain and support the neurons already there. This supports overall brain function and helps your brain function as it ought to. 

It can help improve your working memory by supporting the brain cells that do all the heavy lifting. 

And it’s not just a placebo; it’s the real deal. 


Another incredibly popular nootropic mushroom is Cordyceps. It has a pretty strange appearance, to be quite honest with you. One particular species grows in thin stalks from dead caterpillars found in the Himalayan mountains. We know, it’s pretty creepy. 

And while not all cordyceps grow out of bugs, they all have amazing cognitive benefits. Most notably, Cordyceps may work to maintain healthy neurons so they can continue doing what they were meant to do. 

There are two main mechanisms by which cordyceps gets this job done. The first is as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that can support and protect your cells during times of stress. 

Not only that, but Cordyceps helps support your body’s overall antioxidant capacity, so it helps your body’s antioxidant systems too. 

The second way is by helping with blood flow. Cordyceps can support proper blood flow throughout the body and brain. This can help maintain your brain function and make sure it has the energy to help you focus and get shit done!

Turkey Tail

Turkey tail is another great nootropic, and it wins the award for the cutest name of the bunch. Like many other nootropic mushrooms, Turkey Tail is high in a compound called polysaccharides.

Different polysaccharides have different functions. Many of them, like the ones in Turkey Tail, act as antioxidants that help support the brain. These polysaccharides also support proper synaptic plasticity, thus maintaining healthy brain function. 


Known by some as the anti-stress shroom, the fruiting bodies of Reishi support the health of your brain in a very specific way. Stress is one of the biggest enemies to healthy brain function. High levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in the brain for long periods of time can lead to damage to the brain cells and a reduction in neuroplasticity. 

Reishi helps soothe the nervous system when it’s acting up. It supports the health of your adrenal glands, all to combat tension and help your body get back to a state of calm. 

Nootropics for Health and Wellness

Now you know everything you need to know about nootropics. They’re an incredibly important part of this crazy thing we call life. Whether you need treatment for a mental health condition or you’re a healthy individual looking to support the health of your thinker, nootropics can be a great choice. 

And if you’re looking to up your nootropic intake with amazing, natural mushrooms, check out Earth & Star for easy, delicious ways to work these beauties into your life. 



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Cognitive enhancers | Alcohol and Drug Foundation

How Nootropics Work | Social Trends | Penn State University

Lion's Mane Mushroom: Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects | EvidenceLive

L-Theanine: A Unique Functional Amino Acid in Tea ( Camellia sinensis L.) With Multiple Health Benefits and Food Applications | PubMed